David Bowie died a year ago today. This was the first of several mornings in 2016 that began in complete disbelief. At the heart of each one of those shocks was the richness of detail with which one could visualise each successive failed future: defeated Brixiteers loudly priding themselves on the fact that almost half of Britain dislike the EU, clamouring for a second referendum; Trump supporters denouncing the presidency as satanic; op-eds everywhere detailing just how close we got to Armageddon.
With Blackstar, Bowie had proved the efficacy and productivity of his late self-imposed obscurity. How many more of his albums would have suddenly revealed themselves over the coming years?
He would have been 70 on Sunday, but he won’t need the conveniences of calendars to be remembered. Blackstar managed to survive a year of thinkpieces, in part because its connection to the loss that immediately followed it meant that every mention of that album is a veiled or overt act of mourning and memorialising. It was without any doubt the album that defined that year for us, and each time we hear it, it reenacts the surprise of first hearing it, and the surprise of waking up two days later.
It’s an album of great conviction, that still baffles. We will analyze and over-analyze it for a generation, and every time we think we’ll have reached a conclusion, some new Easter egg in the artwork will be discovered and we’ll begin again.
The newly-released No Plan EP is little more than a teasing of what might have been. There was obviously no time to create something as fully realized as his final complete album. Will we search these final few songs for answers the way we scraped Blackstar? No, we’ll just happily accept any scraps that try to piece together what we lost. We’ll force ourselves to be content with Blackstar as the perfect farewell it has become, whether or not it was intended to be.